Masking of an auditory behaviour reveals how male mosquitoes use distortion to detect females

Patricio Simoes, Robert Ingham, Gabriella Gibson, Ian Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mating behaviour of many mosquito species is mediated essentially by sound: males follow and mate with a female mid-flight by detecting and tracking the whine of her flight-tones. The stereotypical rapid frequency modulation (RFM) male behaviour, initiated in response to the detection of the female's flight-tones, has provided a means of investigating these auditory mechanisms while males are free-flying. Mosquitoes hear with their antennae, which vibrate to near-field acoustic excitation. The antennae generate nonlinear vibrations (distortion products, DPs) at frequencies that are equal to the difference between the two simultaneously presented tones, e.g. the male and female flight-tones, which are detected by mechanoreceptors in the auditory Johnston's organ (JO) at the base of the antenna. Recent studies indicated the male mosquito's JO is tuned not to the female flight-tone, but to the frequency difference between the male and female flight-tones. To test the hypothesis that mosquitoes detect this frequency difference,Culex quinquefasciatusmales were presented simultaneously with a female flight-tone and a masking tone, which should suppress the male's RFM response to sound. The free-flight behavioural andin vivoelectrophysiological experiments revealed that acoustic masking suppresses the RFM response to the female's flight-tones by attenuating the DPs generated in the nonlinear vibration of the antennae. These findings provide direct evidence in support of the hypothesis that male mosquitoes detect females when both are in flight through difference tones generated in the vibrations of their antennae owing to the interaction between their own flight-tones and those of a female.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20171862
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1871
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2018


  • insect hearing
  • Johnston's organ
  • Culex quinquefasciatus
  • distortion products
  • acoustic behaviour
  • rapid frequency modulation


Dive into the research topics of 'Masking of an auditory behaviour reveals how male mosquitoes use distortion to detect females'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this